Residents of Adams and Arapahoe counties will see stay-at-home orders extended to May 8, the Tri-County Board of Health agreed April 24.
The board gave Tri-County staff the ability to extend health orders tuned to the needs in local jurisdictions within those two counties going forward based on the numbers of COVID-19 infected residents, hospital admissions and other factors, once the state's stay-at-home order ends on April 26.
“I think it's clear to say — and hard to say otherwise —that the metro area remains an area of active transmission, and cases and hospitalizations appear to be flattening but have not begun to decline,” Tri-County Health Executive Director John Douglas said. “Some of our prevention measures — support of long-term care facilities, testing, masking — are improving things, but not as fast as we'd like. Others, like contact investigation, have not paid off yet.”
Douglas County, the third county in Tri-County Health's jurisdiction of about 1.5 million residents, will follow its own rules for ending the stay-at-home orders. The Tri-County board said they had not seen the Douglas County plan.
The board met via an internet video chat.
Douglas told the board he favored making a blanket approach for all three counties, but said he realized the state faces two issues right now — the spread of the disease and the damage to the state's economy.
“We strongly believe that if we are going to do this, let's do it in a coordinated way,” Douglas said. “Let's try and coordinate it with those counties that are still experienceing growing and plateaued epidemics.”
The board voted 8-1 to extend the order for the two counties, with the option of issuing longer-term orders for areas within those counties that are worse off. Only Arapahoe County Board member Tom Fawell, a doctor, disagreed, arguing for opening the bulk of both counties along with the rest of the state, just keeping areas that are more hard-hit under a stay-at-home order.
“We know where some hotspots are, and I think we should try to address the hotspots rather than doing the shotgun approach to an entire county,” said Fawell.
The state has been closed down since March 26. Tri-County's member counties joined Jefferson and Boulder counties in opting for the stay-at-home order to help slow the spread of the COVID 19 disease on March 24, the day after Denver adopted its order. Those were all superseded a day later when Gov. Jared Polis adopted an order for the entire state.
Polis outlined his plan for moving beyond the general stay-at-home order at an April 21 press conference. The new phase, called “Safer at Home," allows a slow reopening of the nonessential businesses beginning April 27, encouraging residents to stay at home as much as possible and wear masks in public. Polis' new order lets counties and municipalities modify the state's new guidelines based on local conditions.
Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock announced via Twitter April 23 that the city would extend the stay-at-home order for the city and county until May 8 .
In the Tri-County area, out of the three counties' total of 3,475 COVID-19 cases, the Arapahoe County portion of Aurora alone accounted for 1,194, according to Tri-County's online data as of April 24. The city with the next-largest total was Thornton with 224. while Centennial had 206 cases. Highlands Ranch had the most cases of any community in Douglas County, with 119. The north portion of Aurora, with 199 cases, sits in Adams County.
As of April 23, Arapahoe County's total sat at 1,885 cases, Adams had 1,131 cases and Douglas County had 403 cases. Location was pending for 56 cases. Arapahoe had seen 99 deaths, Adams 44 and Douglas 21.
Kaia Gallager, an Arapahoe County representative, wondered if 10 days was long enough. Douglas said picking a date to end the state orders was less science than art. Douglas said public health officials had considered extending the orders two weeks, since that represented the incubation period for the virus.
“Others said hold on, one incubation period is not enough. You need two incubation periods,” Douglas said. “That would be a month from April 27 and I am not an economic expert, but I am very mindful of the business community and trying to figure out how we can balance people who are concerned that their businesses are closing and people are losing their jobs and the resulting impacts.”
Douglas said there is no magic date that work, and he said he's confident it will end after May 8 in the two counties.
“Barring all hell breaking loose, I don't see us extending it beyond that,” he said. “From a purely public health perspective, getting testing and contact tracing in place, yeah. But for trying to create the best, most effective and fair solution for the community dealing with what I belive is two epidemics — a COVID epidemic and an unemployment epidemic — May 8 makes sense to me.”
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